He’s A Pinball Wizard – There Has Got to be a Twist

One of my stand out teen memories is playing on a girls’ volleyball team and going out to eat as a group before or after the games. Because if you know me at all, you’ll know I am all about the food and not the competition. One particular time, we went to a pizza parlor. I don’t remember the pizza, but I do remember playing Ms. Pac Man in the back of the restaurant. I also remember a young man who finished playing right before I did. But he didn’t put his initials into the high score column at the end of his game. So I walked to his table to tell him in my most flirtatious yet squeaky 13-year-old voice that he’d forgotten to put in his initials, and he told me, in a deep, and dare I say sexy, musical voice (that I can clearly remember 38 years later), “put in yours.” I swooned my way back to Ms. Pac Man and did just that.

I’m sure you’re wondering how this relates in any way to travel. Fair point. But I did get to play Ms. Pac Man recently, at an arcade bar in Portland, and all the memories came flooding back. There were no men with sexy, musical voices nearby (sorry Bob), but I got to play my favorite video game, and drink a beer at the same time. How fun is that? Quarter World Arcade, on Hawthorne Boulevard in Portland, Oregon, is a great place to spend an evening. Bob, our daughter Sarah, her boyfriend Harry, and I played a few buckets of quarters on old video games and classic arcade games too.  We took turns competing in basketball Pop-A-Shot, Ms. Pac Man and Pac Man, and Space Invaders, to name a few. The quarters went just as fast as the beers.

Then, while passing through Las Vegas recently, Bob and I stopped with his sister and her husband at the Pinball Hall of Fame. On the outskirts of the Las Vegas Strip, this 10,000 square foot warehouse space has more than 150 pinball machines, all fully operational and all available to play. Some date from the 1950s, while the “newest” are from the 1990s. They range in price from $.25 to $1 per game. It’s dark inside this gaming hall, but shouldn’t a Pinball Hall of Fame be dark? I played an old wooden baseball arcade game, a similarly old bowling one, and many others too. 

Both Quarter World and the Pinball Hall of Fame seem like they are run by people who enjoy old-fashioned video and arcade games. I don’t guess that either place is making money hand over fist, but in both places, the star of the show is definitely the games. If you’ve got some time on your hands in Portland or Vegas, and enjoy a good video or arcade game, I’d encourage you to check these places out. And if you hear a sexy musical voice playing Ms. Pac Man, please let him know I’m no longer available, so he’ll have to put his own initials into the high score column.

Notes:

Both QuarterWorld and The Pinball Hall of Fame are free to enter, but be prepared to drop some change on the machines.

QuarterWorld is all ages until 8pm, but then after it’s 21 and older.

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Walking the Glaciers of Iceland

When the opportunity to hike on a glacier while carrying an ice axe presents itself, I am a definite YES. You see, I think of myself as an adventurous person. Now, I don’t downhill ski (too fast), I don’t scuba dive (because sharks), and I don’t bungee jump, rock climb, or parachute either (too barfy, too hard and too high). But in my mind, I am really adventurous. IMG_5983

So when Bob suggested we take a glacier hiking tour in Iceland, I knew it was right up my alley. It sounded simply like adventurous walking to me, and I am a champion walker. When we arrived at the Sólheimajökull glacier, about 2 ½ hours outside of Reykjavík, the first thing we did was don disaster prevention equipment, including helmets, crampons, and safety harnesses. We also picked out our ice axes. Adventurous, right? We then started our walk to the glacier, where we saw first hand how glaciers form, and sadly how they melt. Side note – the Sólheimajökull glacier is currently melting at about the size of an Olympic swimming pool every year.

We learned why glaciers look blue and how crevasses are formed. We walked on stairs carved out of the ice, IMG_5941and we looked totally bad ass in our helmets, crampons and harnesses, while carrying our ice axes. We never needed our harnesses, except when our guide let us hang (slightly) over the edge of a deep crevasse while she held us with rope tied to our harness. And we never needed our ice axes either, as our guide made sure we stayed on thick and solid enough ice that we were never in danger of falling through. I did use my axe as a walking stick a couple of times, because even with crampons, there were times that the ice was a little slippery, and it was great to have the ice axe to help with balance.

Our tour group was just Bob and me, one other couple, and our sweet Icelandic tour guide. We saw a few groups on the glacier that day, all with 15+ people in their hiking tour. I’m glad ours was small, and that our tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable too.

This was the perfect tour for me. It could have been a little longer, and perhaps a little more adventurous, but it started snowing after we had been on the glacier for about two hours, and one thing I don’t like in my super adventurous life is to be cold, so I think it worked out perfectly.

Notes:

• Our glacier hike tour was booked through Icelandic Mountain Guides. It included stops at two waterfalls and a “secret” hot spring, the Secret Lagoon geothermal pool in Fludir. No food was included on the tour, but we did stop at a Traveler’s Gas Station/Rest Stop/Grocery Store, where we picked up some expensive sandwiches, chips and drinks. Most things in Iceland are expensive though, so we were prepared.

• Our guide did all the driving, and let me tell you, on our way back to Reykjavík, she drove through a significant blizzard, in the dark. I was glad she was the driver, instead of Bob or I.

• A glacier hike is not for everyone. There is a fair amount of rugged hiking involved, and if balance is a challenge, the ice can be a little slippery, even with crampons.

• We were gone a full day, from 8am to 9pm. The cost of the tour was $330 each. 

• There are many other tour options with Icelandic Mountain Guides, and of course, other guide operators as well. One could tour ice caves (but I’m a little claustrophobic), kayak around glaciers (but motion sickness), and even ice climb (which just sounds hard). I’m certain it’s very obvious to you that glacier walking/hiking was just the right speed for this adventurous gal. 

In the Book of Life, The Answers Aren’t in the Back

by Nancy Bestor

If you grew up reading Peanuts comic strips, or watching A Very Charlie Brown Christmas every single holiday season like I did, chuckI’m certain you’d enjoy the delightful Charles M. Schulz Museum, in Santa Rosa, California, just as much as I did.

I watched most of the Peanuts television specials, and clearly remember rooting for Charlie Brown to talk to the little Red Haired Girl, wishing he would get more valentines, wanting Linus to see the Great Pumpkin, and desperately wanting Charlie Brown to kick the football before Lucy pulled it away. Thus, on a visit to my nephew at Sonoma State, I dragged him and one of my daughters to the Charles M. Schulz Museum, because although they vaguely know about Peanuts, I knew that it was something I’m interested in, and let’s be real, it’s all about me.

snoopyThe museum opened 16 years ago in the hometown of Peanuts creator, Charles M. Schulz, and is home to several permanent exhibits including original Peanuts comic strips, other artwork by Schulz, and a recreation of his original studio. Some of the most interesting exhibits include Mr. Schulz’ high school artwork, which easily demonstrated his talent, as well as a bedroom mural, beautifully restored, which he painted in 1951 for his daughter in their Colorado Springs home. The mural features early Peanuts characters, including Snoopy on all fours.

Another great exhibit is a 22-foot high ceramic tile mural, created by Japanese artist Yoshiteru Otani, made up of 3,588 Peanuts comics. When viewed from a distance, the mural forms the image of Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown. When you get up close, however, you can read each strip. It is impressive.mural

We took a free 60-minute, docent-led tour that day, which I highly recommend. Our tour guide was able to tell us all sorts of interesting facts about Mr. Schulz, and let us in on some of the secrets behind his characters, many of whom were based on real life, including the little Red Haired Girl (whom Schulz may or may not have pined for). We also learned that in 1968, at the suggestion of a reader, Schulz introduced Franklin Armstrong, an African American character and friend of Charlie Brown.

The Peanuts comic strip ran from 1950 to 2000, with Mr. Schulz writing and illustrating every single strip, on average about seven strips a week. It’s a part of my childhood, kidsand if it’s a part of yours too, I’d suggest a visit to the Charles M. Schulz Museum the next time you’re in the Santa Rosa area.

Notes:

Museum admission is $12, but students, children, and seniors pay a discounted fee.

The museum is not huge, we spent about an hour and a half there, and saw most everything in the building. As mentioned in the story above, docents lead tours on a regular basis during open hours, and I highly recommend taking part in some or all of the tour.

 

Got Trip Delay Insurance? Apparently, We Do!

by Robert Bestor

“Sometimes you’ve just got to suck it up and pay the last minute hotel fee.” That quote is from our August eNews and apparently it’s dead wrong. Well, at least in our case it is.

You may remember (if not, click here) that we recently got stuck overnight in San Francisco. Due to “weather,” we missed our Medford connection by 10 minutes and since it was late, we had a decision to make; sleep on the floor at SFO or book a last minute hotel room that was sure to be over-priced. We chose the latter (since we’re over 50) and forked out $180 for about five hours of fitful sleep on a lumpy bed.

Well, thanks to reader David S. of Los Gatos, CA, we now know that our Chase Visa MileagePlus Club credit card Screen Shot 2018-09-25 at 3.50.55 PMwould have reimbursed us up to $500 per ticket. Here is the info from the Chase website under “Trip Delay Reimbursement”:

If your common carrier travel is delayed more than 12 hours or requires an overnight stay, you and your family are covered for unreimbursed expenses made with your MileagePlus Club Card, such as meals and lodging expenses, up to $500 per ticket.

500 bucks per ticket!? Heck, we could have booked the Four Seasons.

To get the benefit you must make a claim to Chase within 60 days of the incident. Unfortunately we missed that deadline by about a week.

So do yourself a favor and review your credit card benefits package before your next trip. There might be something in there that you can use. I just did and am now pleasantly aware that our card also provides Baggage Delay Insurance, Lost Luggage Reimbursement, Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Travel Accident Insurance and more, including of course, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver Insurance. That last one I knew about!

Usually the large print giveth and fine print taketh away. Not in this case however. Next time we’ll know, and I’m sure we’ll book ourselves a sweet suite!

With Your Chrome Heart Shining in the Sun

I wouldn’t really call myself a “car person.” I don’t know much about Teslas, I don’t understand the difference between a V6 and a V8 (tomato juice?), and I am perfectly happy to ride in our minivan instead of our fancier Audi. That being said however, I don’t want to be driving around in a jalopy. And when I was in high school, I did own a classic German automobile. It was a snazzy 1977 red convertible Volkswagen Bug (those were the days). So when Bob suggested we visit the Mercedes-Benz showroom on our recent trip to Berlin, I was game. Spend a few minutes looking at fancy cars? Why not? Little did I know the showroom was three huge floors, with climbing walls, a restaurant, a coffee bar, and even a kids’ miniature race course.

The Mercedes-Benz showroom is indeed a car dealership, as there were people negotiating deals while we visited, but also a museum with stunning works of art, albeit mechanical ones. Cars range in price, with the least expensive (A and C class, apparently) on the lower levels, and the most expensive at the top. There are classic cars on display, and cars for sale priced in the 200,000 euro neighborhood. Cars hang suspended from the ceiling, and as you climb floors on the neon lit escalators you can soak in all the money that went into this extravaganza. It’s pretty fascinating actually. I guess it’s easier to sell really expensive cars when your showroom is a destination all by itself.

We appeared to be two of the only gawkers that day. Everyone else looked like they were working—trying to sell cars (although they never approached us, huh?), or buying. Then there was a birthday party going on at the race course, which features stoplights, a track with sharp turns, and Mercedes Benz bumper cars. Oh to be young.

Bob and I did have a conversation about what car we would buy if we were seriously shopping. He leans toward a Mercedes S class in a black matte finish, reminiscent of the Batmobile. I, on the other hand, see myself in a vintage baby blue Mercedes convertible, driving down the open road, radio blaring, with nary a care in the world. I’m pretty sure I don’t have grey hair in this scenario either.

It turns out I might just be a car person after all.

I Hitched a Ride with a Vending Machine Repairman

In news that can only be categorized as “extremely important,” the San Francisco airport recently came under twitter fire for (wait for it) a vending machine that sells down vests. Although it’s been in the airport for about a year, social media just caught wind of it, and SFO is being mocked for selling clothing from a vending machine. A spokesman for the airport says that the machine is doing more than $10,000 in sales per month, which is not too shabby if you ask me. Especially when you consider that a vending machine only takes up about 10 square feet of floor space and must have very low overhead.

I can’t say that I’m surprised however, as the company behind the machine is Japanese clothier Uniqlo, and if you’ve ever traveled in Japan, you’ll know that vending machines are all over the country, selling just about anything imaginable. They’re on well trafficked streets in big cities, and they’re in quiet residential neighborhoods too. We’ve seen everything from cold beer and hot coffee, to candy and toiletries, to warm corn chowder, canned carrots and tomato sauce, and even underwear. The advertising pictures on the machines are often just as entertaining as the items for sale. Take, for example, Tommy Lee Jones crying with a can of Boss coffee. Why? Who knows.

We also found ramen shops with vending machines right inside their front door, where you select and purchase your meal, and then hand a ticket that comes out of the machine to the cook. This way the cooks don’t deal with any money, just food!

Our first time in Japan we ate at such a noodle shop in Tokyo. It was quite a treat to try and figure out how the system works, then to play “what’s behind door number 3” as we guessed at which ramen dishes we might be ordering based on the Japanese characters next to each button. We were never sure of exactly which ramen we ordered, I can only report that they were both delicious.

One thing we did figure out was the number of “fire” symbols directly related to how spicy the dish was. That, by the way, is a universal symbol, that due to jet lag, sensory overload and the pressure of MAKING A DECISION in a very foreign and somewhat pressure-packed situation, we missed completely. We still refer to that meal as the time we each ordered a bowl of fire. Delicious yes, but also hellishly hot.

By and large, I like personal service when I shop. I hope so, because I’m in the retail business. But I also understand the idea of quickly being able to purchase items from a vending machine. I may never buy underwear (at least that’s the story I’m telling), but a soda or bottle of water, maybe. Especially when I’m in Japan, and if I can find Tommy Lee Jones shedding a few tears, even better.

 

Man, I Feel Like a Woman

by Nancy Bestor

Ninety-six percent of the time, I like being a woman. I like talking about my feelings. I like romantic comedies and chick lit. And I like the fact that I don’t like football one bit. But there’s about 4% of the time that I really wish I were a man. Ladies, I’m sure you get where I’m going with this. It’s when I have to use the restroom that I wish I was a man. You know, the whole peeing while standing up thing. Men are fortunate that they rarely have to sit or squat on a toilet. And they have little idea of just how good they have it. Am I right ladies or am I right?

I think of this when I’m using a cold restroom and the toilet seat is freezing on my behind. I think of this when I’m using a public restroom where the toilet is disgustingly dirty. I think of this when the line for the ladies restroom is five times as long as the line for the men’s restroom. And I think of this when I’m traveling in a country that still uses squat toilets. (I also think that I should have done more core workouts when I’m using a squat toilet, but that’s best saved for a blog about how I don’t exercise enough.)

I was reminded of this when Bob and I were in Amsterdam this past winter. You see, we were drinking beer in the afternoon. Now I don’t know about you, but when I drink beer in the afternoon (well actually when I drink beer anytime) I have to pee, quite frequently actually. And before we left the bar I did use the facilities. But then there we were, walking around the beautiful city, and I had to use the bathroom again. Bob too needed to use the restroom. And guess what we found? A public urinal, right in the middle of downtown Amsterdam. That’s right, Bob, being a man, was able to relieve himself just when he needed to (see the urinal in action in the photo at left). I, on the other hand, had to find a restroom in a grocery store. I don’t begrudge Bob. I don’t even begrudge the city of Amsterdam. The design of the urinal was quite ingenious, and it obviously didn’t take a lot of effort or money to install it on the city streets. I’m just taking this opportunity to complain about something loosely travel related that I can’t change, because what is a travel blog for if not an opportunity to share interesting travel stories complain?

There’s one country, and one country alone, that knows what women need when they’re using the restroom, and that’s Japan. Every time we’ve visiting Japan, I am happy to be a woman 100% of the time, and I thank my lucky stars that I can sit down on a public toilet and take advantage of the seat warmer, the music, the cleaning spray, and the blow dryer for the bum, to name just a few things. Surely Japan’s toilets were invented by a woman. If only every country, including my own, could adopt these toilets, then I could move onto more important travel blogging topics like who in their right minds would hang their toilet paper roll under vs. over?